A Fresh Look at Farm Fresh

The following column appeared in the October 5-11, 2o11 edition of the Hudson Valley News .

Many of us who are blessed to live in the Hudson Valley especially enjoy living here because of the proximity to working farms.  We love watching the progress of a field of corn through the summer; we love driving past a picture perfect horse farm on our way to work or marveling at a herd of belted black and white Galloway cows looking like so many contented Oreos in the pasture. We know the taste of a fresh apple right off the tree; we know the distinctive smell of passing a dairy farm; and we know the patience required when you get behind a tractor on a country road.

For those who aren’t so fortunate, there are always day trips to pick apples or pumpkins, visits to family-friendly fall festivals– plentiful in the Hudson Valley over the next month — and, in Dutchess County, Farm Fresh Tours, a very successful partnership of Dutchess County Tourism and Metro North that has brought more than 3,600 people to the county over the four years since the August to October program began.

Tourism in Dutchess County alone brings in nearly $500 million a year and the tourism industry is responsible for 6% of all employment in the Hudson Valley region. These Farm Fresh tours, which continue through the fourth weekend of October (http://www.dutchesstourism.com/agri-metronorth.asp), introduce a whole new population to an essential segment of the county’s economy and generate well needed tourism and agriculture dollars that don’t stop when those folks get back on Metro North and return to the big city.

These visitors now know the region. Ninety five percent of this year’s Farm Fresh tourists reported they learned something new and would either take another tour or recommend it to a friend or family member. These folks have wandered through the villages of Millerton and Millbrook and shopped their weekly Farmers Markets.  They have browsed galleries in Beacon, visited Fishkill Farms, Sprout Creek Farm and Terhune Orchards, and tasted wines at Cascade and Millbrook Vineyards. They report having spent an average of $75 a person during their outing — some as much as $300. Equally important, though, they will visit the region again and will patronage these same farmers and food producers at the Greenmarket or their local specialty store in NYC.

For some reason, Dutchess County isn’t generally identified as a rural county, perhaps because of the population density in southern Dutchess and the Route 9 corridor, but, it fact, it is and should more clearly be thought of as an important farm and food producing county for New York State. While it has seen a sad and sharp decline in the number of dairy farms over the last several decades, Dutchess County still has more than 650 farms encompassing about one-fifth of the county’s total acreage, and the vast majority of these are small and family farms. Anecdotally, from driving around the county, I would venture to say that there is probably at least one, if not more, working farm in every town in Dutchess County. Parts of Dutchess feel as rural as any county in the state.

Add to that the county’s other food production: Outstanding wines, artisanal cheeses, small batch honeys and preserves, free range chicken and grass fed meat producers, and exciting, sustainable new ventures like Wild Hive’s grains in Clinton and Crown Maple Syrup Dover Plains and you have the makings of a true foodie fueled economic engine.  It’s a bonus, of course, to have the Culinary Institute of America, training the future chefs and hospitality professionals, right here in the county, too.

While the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council continues to meet around the region it’s a great opportunity to speak up for the importance of viable and sustainable small farms and support of local food production. These kinds of businesses mean jobs that stay local and that last — in some cases for generations.

To make your voice heard check the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council website for meetings that are open to the public and take their public survey. (http://nyworks.ny.gov/content/mid-hudson/mid-hudson-regional-council-public-survey)

About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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